Yesterday's Enemy (1959)





Director:     Val Guest.

Starring:     Stanley Baker (Captain Langford),  Guy Rolfe (Padre),  Leo McKern (Max),  Gordon Jackson (Sgt. McKenzie),  David Oxley (Doctor),  Richard Pasco (2nd Lt. Hastings),  Philip Ahn (Yamazaki),  Bryan Forbes (Dawson),  Wolfe Morris (Informer),  David Lodge (Perkins),  Percy Herbert (Wilson),  Russell Waters (Brigadier),  Barry Lowe (Turner),  Burt Kwouk (Japanese Soldier).

British unit takes a Burmese village recently controlled by the Japanese; to get info from the collaborator, the commander orders two of them to be executed to show him he means business



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A group of British commandoes heads through the swamps of the jungles of Burma. The commanding officer is being floated on a one-man raft through the water. Captain Allan Langford asks him how's it going and the commander says itís not too bad. They still have about another 40 miles to cover.

A number of the men need a rest so Sergeant McKenzie takes a group and searches ahead for a good place to stop to rest. The newspaper man Max talks with the padre about the tough going through the swamps.

McKenzie and his group come across a small Burmese village. McKenzie tells the two men with him to stay put and he will go bring the unit up.  Thereís trouble with the radio. Wilson is working on it. Captain Langford goes to check on the radio. The captain learns that one of the men dropped the radio into the swamp. He really gets angry, saying that radio is their very life line, so they better fix it.

McKenzie reports to the Captain and everyone starts moving toward the village. When they arrive 2nd Lt. Hastings says they are going in. McKenzie urges waiting, but Hastings just goes. They march right into the village center and all of a sudden the Japanese open up on them with a machine gun.

Some villagers are killed. The other commandoes arrive and Captain Langford takes over. He isnít too pleased with the rashness of the 2nd. Lieutenant. He moves the two flanks around the village hut where the main fire is coming from.

When everyone is in place the order is given to open fire. Two Japanese soldiers are killed. In the next round of firing they kill one of the machine gunners. And now the men move right under the windows of the village hut. McKenzie kills one of the Japanese soldiers by shooting him in the back.

Two Japanese soldiers start to go out the back way along with a native interpreter. All three are hit . The native guide gets up and tries to make a run for it but is tackled by a British soldier. They put him in the big hut.

One of the women, Suni, can speak a little English. She says she does not know the interpreter for the Japanese.

Captain Langford is puzzled. He has found an important map but canít interpret it. There was a colonel leading the Japanese here, but there were only eight men. Why place a colonel with eight enlisted men? It seems such a waste of the talents of a high-ranking officer.

McKenzie has to lead a burial party. Langford tells him to throw both the British and Japanese dead in the same hole and donít ask the padre to perform any religious services for them.

Langford goes to question the interpreter. The interpreter pretends he doesnít understand any English, so Langford tells the guard to take the man out . . . . and shoot him. Now the interpreter says no, no, please.

Langford calls the man over to him and then he hits the native right in the mid-region and down he goes balled up in pain. The guard pulls the man to his feet. Langford begins questioning the man again.  He catches the native in a number of lies and concludes the guide was helping the Japanese all along.  Langford tells the man he will talk or he will kill the guide. The guide says the British donít these sorts of things. Langford tells him he better not bet on it.

Langford tells the doctor to save the morphine. Use it only on the men who have a chance of living. The doctor doesnít like this rule one bit. Telling a man that he canít have any morphine because he has no chance to live is a sure way to make sure the man dies.

Langford stops a sexual assault on one of the village women. He balls out the man, but shots fired put a stop to that. He sends a number of men out to find the shooters. Four men and McKenzie go after them. The last man in the line is knifed to death by a very big Japanese soldier.

Four men left. A machine gunner opens up and kills another British soldier. McKenzie moves around and the machine gunner opens up on him again. This gives the manís position away and a British soldier kills the sniper in the tree. They go over to check on the man. McKenzie takes no chances and shoots the sniper again.

Langford starts questioning the interpreter again and threatens to shoot him if he doesnít give him any useful information. He points the pistol right at him and counts to five, but he still doesnít shoot the interpreter. He tells the guard to bring the man outside.

Langford says he will shoot two villagers if the man doesnít talk. The padre and the war correspondent, plus the doctor, all protest against this act of brutality.

Langford gives McKenzie the job. The padre and the correspondent argue with Langford in private. Suni then argues for mercy. The two civilians are shot. Now the interpreter will be shot. So he says he will talk.

They go into the office. The interpreter explains the map is for a Japanese offensive set for two weeks from now. And he explains the symbols used on the map. Langford studies the map and says: "They are cutting in on either side of our main force, relieves pressure on the front, and weíll stay put thinking their supply lines are too far extended. All the time they are moving in behind us."

Langford now lets the interpreter go, but advises him against trying to escape from camp. The man leaves. Langford tells McKenzie to take the man out into the jungle and kill him.

Doc, padre and Max the war correspondent come again to speak to Langford. They want the departure delayed for the sake of the wounded. Langford says this is not a serious problem because the sick are not going with them. The others are shocked at this, but Langford says their lives and the lives of thousands of others depend upon their will to keep moving. The doctor and Max say they are staying.

The commander is brought in to talk. He says the wounded have decided that they will stay behind. They donít think the men can make it if they take the wounded along with them. The only thing the wounded men want is a pistol and enough ammunition to commit suicide.

McKenzie has killed the informer. He tells three men to go bury the body.

The radio works and the men hear messages being broadcast. A lookout in a tree spots a Japanese soldier moving up on the encampment. He gets down from the tree to inform the men.

Langford says he wants to transmit a message, but the radiomen say they only have the receiving part working. Langford tells the men to fix the transmission part.

The lookout delivers the news of a possible Japanese patrol in the area. Langford tells the men to act like they are staying in the encampment.

Langford now tells McKenzie to take the bulk of the soldiers and start walking. The captain is going to wait for the radio transmission to be fixed. The 2nd lieutenant asks if he can go with McKenzie, but this just makes the captain furious at him.

The main group starts moving out. A Japanese soldier sees them and throws a grenade at the line. A number of men are killed with other seriously wounded. The Japanese start killing anyone who is left alive. McKenzie hides in the bushes.

A Japanese soldier finds a compass and searches around for the British soldier who dropped it. He finally spots McKenzie but the British fellow rushes the man and stabs him. McKenzie continues running but is shot in the back.

The 2nd lieutenant talks with the padre about his being so scared of being killed. They talk about bravery and cowardice. The padre tries to soothe the lieutenantís worries and fears.

The Japanese are told that the main unit of the British soldiers are in the village. The Japs start to move toward the village.

The transmission part of the radio is fixed. Now they just have to get someone on the radio.

The British learn that about 30 Japanese are headed their way. Langford and about ten men or so go forward out to face the Japanese and surprise them.

But now the Japanese learn that the British are following them and they set up an ambush. The British walk right up to the trap, but donít step into it. They set themselves up in ambush mode. A Japanese unit of men are coming down the center of the opening in the swamp.

One of the British soldiers throws a grenade in amongst the Japanese swamp waders. Most of them are killed or wounded, but the British soldier dies. The battle begins and the British take a beating. It looks like the captain is hit in his mid-section.

The villagers now decide to hide in the jungle rather than wait around for the Japanese to retake the village. Soon the Japanese arrive. Many of the forward British unit were captured and now they are being used as shields. Langford had given the order before he left to attack the Japanese to shoot at their own men if they are used as shields. Langford yells out for the men in the huts to open fire on the enemy. Langford is shot and goes down.

The radio man is shot and goes down. A grenade and then two more grenades win the day for the Japanese. Six men are captured. The Japanese take the 2nd lieutenant out to execute him.

Langford is still alive. The Japanese officer questions Langford, but gets no cooperation. He then takes Langford outside. They walk over to the 2nd lieutenant to threaten to kill the lieutenant if Langford doesnít talk. Itís a bluff because they donít shoot the lieutenant when Langford refuses to talk.

The Japanese commander takes Langford back into the hut to ask him some more questions. Langford sees the badly wounded radio man named Wilson and tries to the him. The commander figures that Langford didnít escape with his troops from the village because he decided deliberately to stay put for some important reason. The reason could be that a high ranking Japanese officer had highly critical information that Langford thought was absolutely essential to understand.

The commander gives the typical Japanese rationalizations for their brutal treatment of enemy prisoners. He says the British have made up their own rules of conduct in war because it suits their interests. "This is total war, captain. No quarter is asked, no quarter is given."

The commander says he is going to let the captain live, but he will kill all the men under the command of the captain. The Japanese commander then says he will shoot Paul if he doesnít talk. And yet once again itís a bluff. All the commander does is slap Paul down to the ground.

Paul goes into the hut and says he knows that the commander is going to put all the pressure on the men in order to force Allan to talk. Wilson dies.

The Japanese officer comes in and wants to know what they decided? No one says anything, so the commander has all the prisoners go outside, except for Langford. The men go out and the commander has Langford watch from the large opening in the hut.  Langford overpowers one of the guards and tries to transmit a message. The second guard, however, shoots Langford several times and he goes down. The Japanese commander says to Langford that that is exactly what he would have done, if he was in Langford's position. 

One of the prisoners starts breaking down so the padre starts a recital of the Lordís Prayer. A message is being transmitted to the radio in the hut, while the men are waiting to be executed by firing squad. The message comes from Gen. Candrik: "At this grave hour, at this time of crisis for us all, your magnificent fighting qualities, your fortitude, strength and courage leave me full of admiration. Fighting a determined enemy, you have upheld the fine traditional qualities of the British army. I know you will understand me when I say that Iím proud of your forbearance, your loyalty and the humane discipline shown by all units under my command." Signed Gen. Candrik.

There is a stone on which is written: "When you go home tell them of us and say Ė for their tomorrow we gave our today."


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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